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Baphomet’s Agony Preview
‘Baphomet’s Agony’ is a novel by promising new author Marta Skaði, which could well be the world’s first black metal love story. What follows is an excerpt from the book’s second chapter…
The last of the three support bands was a bland collection of circus freaks peddling the predictable zombie/Nazi shtick. Texting and messaging are the most effective forms of communication in an environment like this and if the ill-judged clamour of the band could have been edited out of the mix I would have heard the muted clicks of a hundred fingers swarming deftly over well-worn keys. Even as the vocalist was fire-eating and the bassist smeared fake excrement over his face, the sparse crowd sat cross-legged and resolute on the floor of the club staring into tiny screens that up-lit their pale, youthful faces with a sinister digital glow: some green, some blue and all of them ablaze with the black flame of boredom.
I had three people to keep an eye on that night: two journalists and the A&R man from the Satan’s Spawn record company. The record company guy wasn’t going to watch anyone other than the main attraction so he was spared the inferior cabaret of the support. As expected, the journos arrived before I did. The promise of a subsidised bar was part of the allure, I’m sure, but even without free drinks the bill included four unsigned bands so, statistically, at least one of the performers was likely go on to sell a handful of records or, better still, kill their parents. The bragging rights that came from witnessing the inaugural Oslo gig of a notorious psychopath was a draw that was too much for any heavy metal hack to resist.
If you ignore the weird special interest blogs and fanzines Norway had two magazines that cater for this sort of extreme metal: Downtuned and Hate Sounds. Representing them at the bar that night we had Sigurd (whom I just about recognised from the obviously airbrushed photo that often accompanied his column) and the man stood next to him who was Od (and for those of you reading an English translation of my story: that’s not a spelling mistake, it’s his name). I have no idea which of the magazines they were writing for that night. I’m not sure that they were entirely sure themselves. Movement between the titles was pretty fluid at the time and many journalists were on the payroll of both.
Sigurd was an appalling little man who had made it his life’s work not to do the obvious – to buck the trend; to slam his entire bodyweight into a pull-door and then, once its hinges had snapped off, proclaim triumphantly that he knew all along that it was a push-door at heart. He would always champion the most awful of bands and roast anyone that dared enjoy a halfway decent review from any of his peers.
He was a cock-sucking prick.
Od, in contrast, was a big, wet pussy. I bet that he was a bookish teenager, good at science, eager to please and with a puberty that coincided with his discovery of black, death, and thrash metal along with its numerous sub-genres. To begin with, at least, I was the only girl in my town that listened to extreme music so by the time I had left school I had acquired a loyal following of earnest boys like the adolescent Od. I was therefore familiar with his type. His reviews were always benevolent and read like the chemistry homework of an enthusiastic schoolboy with a crush on his teacher.
Od had a larger frame than Sigurd and had spent over thirty years covering it with a luxuriant body that was soft, white and unctuous. I could imagine pushing my finger onto his face, arm or belly and watching his flesh gather around mine and swallow it down; his skin sucking gently on my finger if I tried to pull it out.
“So how would you describe them?” asked Sigurd. Od paused before answering. It was a question that required careful consideration. “Goresludge.”
Od’s answer was given with a certainty that that did not invite discussion. Heavy metal nomenclature is a serious business and Od, having coined both the designations narco piss flange and gothsmack neo-bender (classifications that had outlasted the bands to which they were first applied by a considerable margin), was regarded as one of the foremost metal taxonomists practising in Oslo.
In a conversation with anyone other than Sigurd, questioning Od’s categorisation of a band would have been as ridiculous as querying the very existence of sound and I would certainly never have thought to contradict him.
However, I was eavesdropping on Od’s conversation with Sigurd and Sigurd not only invented the concept of the retro-anal gig review, he had also had a hand in drafting the manifestos of two black metal cults that had gone on to have their leaders incarcerated for terror crimes. Sigurd was the only person in Norway qualified to edit an entry in Od’s metal catalogue and, having never agreed with anyone in his life, there was little chance that he was going to allow Od’s comment to go unchallenged.
“They played too fast to be sludge,” Sigurd said. You needed a refined palate to detect the hint of patronisation that Sigurd used to spice his comment, but it was there. “And he said something about Satan at the beginning.” “Blackened goregrind then.” Od sounded less convincing second time round.
Sigurd shook his head and smiled at his colleague. This time his pity was undisguised. “But they used a D-beat, Od, and that guitarist can shred like a petrol-engine Moulinex, so to speak.” “So what are you saying? That they’re blackened D-beat deathcore?”
“No,” Sigurd said after a needlessly long pause (he was clearly savouring his little victory). “More melodic than that. I’d call them blackened D-beat power death.” “Cool.” Od had to accept the wisdom of Sigurd’s words. “Still shit, though.”
Od was right but Sigurd instinctively disagreed and claimed that they had a great sense of “each other” and some definite “Zeitgeist potential.” Od must have realised that there was little purpose in arguing with Sigurd so he just gazed out across the crowd.
From the pictures I have seen, the crowds at Norwegian black metal gigs aren’t any different from the crowds at black metal gigs anywhere else in the world except that over here we take it all a bit more seriously. In truth the only difference between a black metal crowd and the crowd at any other type of metal gig is that a black metal audience includes a handful of very earnest, mainly fat and hideously ugly misanthropes who call themselves satanists and who hate anyone who doesn’t share their particular worldview. That’s ironic really as the combined worldview shared by a room full of self-proclaimed satanists is likely to be more wide and varied than that enjoyed by any other cross-section of society.
Looking out at that particular crowd Od would have seen a familiar view and one as comforting to him as was a dusty mantelpiece to his geriatric grandmother. His Gran’s mantelpiece was probably decorated with childhood photographs of Od and his cousins, who in her mind, hadn’t changed or grown up in the last twenty or thirty years. In a similar way, the assortment of oddballs that always turn out to metal gigs was identical to that which had been going to gigs like this over that same twenty to thirty year period: boys scarred by a recent and virulent puberty with bad skin and terrible hair; others who could tell you where any curve bisects the x-axis without breaking sweat but who found themselves chemically incapable of speaking to girls; a slightly more cool and sophisticated clique in the midst of a twelve-month fad who will grow out of it; one or two cute girls with far too many tattoos who just want the love and attention of an emotionally distant father; and then the permanently lost – those not wanting to be found by anyone and just seeking refuge from everything.
But there is an aspect of Norway’s metal scene that remains unique to us and if I needed a reminder of it I got a good prompt when a disturbance on the floor of the venue distracted me and drew me away from Od and Sigurd for a few minutes.
Oslo Iron had arrived.
Norway has a long and proud black metal history and these guys regarded themselves as the guardians of it. Americans have the Hell’s Angels, the Brits have their football hooligans and here in Norway we have Oslo Iron: a gang of old faux-bikers with greying beards and sagging guts who maintain that wearing sunglasses in the dark, having a gun licence, sporting the same clothes and holding the same views for upwards of twenty years makes them worthy of the deepest respect. These guys served their apprenticeships during the second wave of black metal in the early 90s, some of them traded blows with the mainstream rock scene when black metal was born in the 80s and two of them, regarded by the others as noblemen, earned their spurs crashing bottles into punks back in ‘77 before black metal had given them a philosophy upon which to justify their hatred and violence. That night they were tormenting a guy who thought it would be cool to turn up in a latex devil mask. However, their fun came to an end when the mask got slapped off and one of the Oslo Iron morons realised that he had just kicked his nephew in the nuts.
Sigurd and Od joined me at the perimeter of the pit and it was Sigurd who noticed something emerging at the back of the stage.
“Have you seen the size of that drummer?” he asked. I smiled into the straw of my lemonade as an enormous slab of meat and hair crouched incongruous over the drum kit. With sticks held like straws in his hands he looked like a bear on a child’s tricycle. “That stool he’s sat on could disappear up his ass and I bet he wouldn’t fucking notice,” continued Od. “What a beast!” “He’s the one I told you about,” said Sigurd in a reverential tone. “Apparently he’s already killed two people.” Od nodded, like a prospective employer perusing an impressive CV. “From the size of him I can imagine him just ripping their heads off.”
That was bullshit of course. I’m pretty confident that he’d not killed more than once.
I had seen that drummer nearly every day for as long as I could remember so his outlandish proportions didn’t seem strange to me, but he never failed to provoke this type of reaction in those new to him.
“And look at this dude!” Od shook his glass in the direction of a bassist as he heaved what appeared to be a cuboid torso into centre stage using a pair of short, stout legs that were poorly suited to the task.
“Jesus!” In a rather lumpy spray Sigurd had distributed a small mouthful of beer over Od’s face and my arm in his hurry to comment on the new arrival. “Is that a human being or a forklift truck?”Od shared his colleague’s incredulity, as well as his spittle, “I have never seen a man with a lower centre of gravity than that.” “Oh, come now Od!” Said Sigurd. “You’re forgetting that even your average midget will have a comparable density but a much lower geometric centre.” “Still,” said Od, “I bet he’s never fallen over in his life.”
As far as I was aware Od was right and more than once I had witnessed that bassist sleeping whilst still standing up. These two unusually shaped individuals did make for a unique rhythm section; I won’t deny it. Not since the Siege of Minas Tirith had there been such an odd-looking alliance of creatures. It never seemed to bother them though: they were quite comfortable in those skins that nature had deigned to stretch so generously across two opposing planes.
The gargantuan drummer rolled his snare and tom-toms and then gently crashed some cymbals, as all drummers do, just to check that the laws of physics hadn’t changed since he last tried and that his drums were still capable of eliciting a sound when struck. Meanwhile, the robustly proportioned bassist grimaced at the kids sat on the floor and ran two tree-trunk fingers down the neck of his bass with such vigour that anyone not equipped with a hull-like hide would have surely seared the flesh on their fingers to the bone.
Their appearance onstage provoked a ceasefire in the telecommunication combat that had until then waged across the floor of the club. Brows furrowed, heads inclined to one side and neighbours were nudged as the crowd tried to assimilate what it was seeing. Giggles and pointing followed but, as usual, this peculiar double act had piqued the interest of the young crowd. All faces were now turned toward the stage as the bassist and drummer conversed between themselves. From the way that they looked at them I suspect that many of the crowd were interested to hear how these two brutes communicated. A few of them leaned forward over the foot of the stage hoping that they might eavesdrop on a series of unintelligible guttural grunts that would confirm their otherworldly origins.
Those that had sought sanctuary from the support band began to file in from the bar to the main space and before long the last of the seated were forced to stand up for fear of being trampled on.
It was a surprisingly big crowd for a Wednesday night, a fact that was not lost on Od and Sigurd.
“Where have all these kids come from?” asked Od. “Satan with support from Vlad The Impaler couldn’t have drawn this number of undead from their graves.” Sigurd was confused. “And have you noticed how many girls there are here?” At that point Sigurd looked across at me. I say that he looked at me but he never actually looked me in the face. His gaze never got much higher than my cleavage. Without registering any shame he stared at my tits as if they were some complicated train timetable that required his analysis.
“They’re not your standard metal trolls either: look at her!” Od pointed at a teenage blonde stood close to the front of the stage with clean, straight and waist-length hair. I had noticed her the minute that she had arrived. She was well over six feet tall with a face and body lovingly chiselled from ivory.
Sigurd dragged his attention off my chest and as he redirected it stageward I could see that he was forming a contradiction on his tongue but it never escaped his mouth and before long he was forced to shuffle uncomfortably and adjust his zipper. I suspect that he had never been aroused at a black metal gig before and I like to think that it was as much me as it was the tall blonde who made him wonder, for the first time in his life, if there was scope for trouser-ware to evolve beyond black skintight jeans.
“I’m pleased to see that corpse paint is back in vogue,” said Od.
I don’t think that Sigurd heard that comment otherwise he would have disagreed with it. He was probably concentrating too hard on folding that channel into his jeans that would allow him a small degree of painless expansion.
Corpse painting, an artistic movement that has never quite impacted on the mainstream, involves the use of make-up to give the impression that you are recently deceased. By evoking a countenance devoid of all colour, with sunken eyes and sometimes even wounds or parcels of decay, it is designed to be the antithesis of glamour. However, as is so often the case, if you push off a sufficient distance from the safe and acceptable shores of fashion you will eventually find yourself crashed upon the rocks of its cutting edge. Many in this crowd were sporting a look that can only be described as corpse-chic.
© Marta Skaði 2012
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